By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Singer Luke James has had one of the toughest jobs in Brooklyn over the past couple of nights. James, a New Orleans-born singer and songwriter, is the opening act for Beyonce on her “Mrs. Carter Show” world tour and had the task of warming up the crowds at the superstar’s shows at the Barclays Center on Aug. 4 and 5.
Audiences, especially devoted fans of a mega star like Beyonce, usually want to see the headliner and endure the opening act more than they enjoy it. But James, a Grammy-nominated R&B singer, said he’s up to the challenge of winning over the crowd. Opening for Beyonce “is definitely a mountain,” he said. “But I believe in my gift. I believe in what I’m doing,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in an interview on Monday.
James, who was nominated for a Grammy this year in the R&B category for his song “I Want You,” is a singer, songwriter and a dancer. He loves performing at the Barclays Center. “It’s a fabulous arena. It’s a privilege to be there,” he said.
His new album, “Made to Love,” is scheduled for release this year.
James, 29, has a great deal of show business experience, both on stage and backstage. He has written hit songs for stars such as Chris Brown, Justin Bieber and Britney Spears. He was a dancer in Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)" music video in 2011. Beyonce herself cast him in the video.
With every experience he had, he absorbed it and tried to learn from it. “I was like a sponge,” he said.
While growing up in New Orleans, James had eclectic taste in music and listened to a variety of artists. “I’m a bit of an old soul. I listened to Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, even country music. I liked Alabama,” he recalled.
James started writing songs when he was just 10 years old. “I was influenced by Baby Face, Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson in my songwriting,” he said.
He kept writing songs through his teenage years and into his 20s. His first big break came when he got the chance to write songs for Ruben Studdard, the soulful singer who won "American Idol” in 2003.
Writing songs is a joyful experience, he said. It isn't easy, however. When asked whether writing the music or the lyrics is harder, he said at times it’s more difficult to compose a melody while at other times the words don’t come easily. “It’s difficult to say which is harder. Sometimes, I don’t have the music. I just have this feeling that I want to get across. I go into the studio and I mumble. If you work at it, it comes. Sometimes the words are hard,” he said.
“I’m a big believer in the 1,000 hours theory,” James said. A songwriter sometimes has to put 1,000 hours into the work before a song materializes.
He enjoys composing songs for other artists. “When you write a song for an artist, you have a connection to that person. Sometimes, you have sat down and talked to that person to find out what it is they’re trying to communicate,” he said.
Songwriting “is all about communicating,” James said. “It’s all about having a feeling and communicating that feeling to the audience."
James has written hundreds of songs over the years. Does he have a favorite? “I love them all. Songs are like your children. You don’t have a favorite. I like to say that my favorite is the song I haven’t written yet,” he said.
He felt honored to have been nominated for a Grammy Award. “It was an amazing feeling to be recognized by my peers, people I truly respect. Breaking bread with them was truly amazing,” he said. He lost the award to Usher, but came away from the experience grateful.
As an artist, James said he hopes audiences take away something from watching him perform. “I hope they can feel my passion, my drive, my soul. I hope they can bask in their own glory. I hope to inspire people to respect their lives,” he said.
He has advice for budding performers. “I would tell them to follow their dreams. Stay positive. Stay focused. You must be in love with your music. And you must believe in yourself,” he said.
James will be performing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Aug. 29 in “The Truth Serum,” a concert featuring India.Arie and other artists.